The federal "war on drugs" and "law and order" issues stressed by many politicians are major reasons for the clashes involving heavily armed police in Ferguson, Missouri, say leaders of America's Libertarian Party.
In interviews with Newsmax last week, both Carla Howell, the party's political director, and 2012 Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson said their party has had a longtime history of opposing government programs that they feel have led to the "militarization" of local police in cities such as Ferguson.
Their remarks are the latest evidence of a shift by some on the right from the strong "law and order" position that was a mainstay of conservative politicians going back to Richard Nixon in the late 1960s.
In his new book, "The Greatest Comeback,"
onetime Nixon staffer Pat Buchanan recalls how his candidate "staked out our claim to the law and order issue" in 1966 and two years later, how Nixon called for rapid "retaliation against the perpetrators of violence" and wanted the response to be "swift and sure."
Libertarians today look at the issue differently from Nixon and Buchanan in 1968. They argue local police are now armed to fight terrorism rather than simply contain crime.
"The 'war on drugs,' which we have opposed vigorously from the start, is one of the real root causes of the problem in Ferguson," Howell told Newsmax. "Local police forces have become way too prolific in the weapons they use to the point that they act like SWAT [Special Weapons and Tactics] teams, which use military-style weapons and tactics which are normally reserved for operations outside the capabilities of local law enforcement officers."
Howell added that such tactics "have their roots in the federal 'war on drugs,' which we Libertarians have opposed since it was started in 1971."
Pointing to the television news reports last week in which Ferguson police in riot gear quell local looters, she said: "This is what you get when you have too much government that is too big and too complicated. And this is why we should get rid of the 'war on drugs.'"
"This is just crazy — local police in SWAT attire, with armor and dogs, dealing with a situation that if [violence] gets out of hand should require calling in the National Guard," said former Republican presidential hopeful-turned-Libertarian nominee Johnson.
Johnson told Newsmax how Libertarians "led the charge from day one against the 'war on drugs,' which is directly responsible for the militarization of local police that we are seeing now in Ferguson."
Beginning in 1971, when Nixon called drug abuse "Public Enemy No. 1," federal programs devoted to the "prevention of new addicts and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted" have been commonly referred to in the press as "the war on drugs."
With the Drug Alliance estimating that the United States now spends $51 billion on the "war on drugs," the overall programs have come to include federal assistance to local police departments for drug enforcement.
"And this is where you get the police in military gear bashing down front doors and inventing situations to make use of the military training they have," Johnson told Newsmax.
The former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico said President Bill Clinton was "one of the worst transgressors in the drug war." He recalled how it was alleged possession of drugs in the Waco, Texas, compound of the Branch Davidian movement in 1993 that resulted in the death of 82 Branch Davidians and four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.
Johnson said he "hopes to" make another run for president in 2016 as a Libertarian. He said the list of prospective Republican candidates "is not reflective of America" because "so many of them feel they have to take the same line as social conservatives" on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
As for Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican who has a strong following among "small-l" libertarians and has joined the criticism of police militarization of "large-l" Libertarians, Johnson said: "He has maybe half of what it takes to be a presidential candidate. He takes some non-libertarian stands on immigration and the right to choose, saying it should be left up to states. I say it’s a constitutional issue that is analogous to the civil rights movement of the 1960s."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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